Delivery of small molecules and anticancer agents to malignant cells or specific regions within a tumor is limited by penetration depth and poor spatial drug distribution, hindering anticancer efficacy. Herein, we demonstrate control over gold nanoparticle (GNP) penetration and spatial distribution across solid tumors by administering GNPs with different surface chemistries at a constant injection rate via syringe pump. A key finding in this study is the discovery of different zone-specific accumulation patterns of intratumorally injected nanoparticles dependent on surface functionalization. Computed tomography (CT) imaging performed in vivo of C57BL/6 mice harboring Lewis lung carcinoma (LLC) tumors on their flank and gross visualization of excised tumors consistently revealed that intratumorally administered citrate-GNPs accumulate in particle clusters in central areas of the tumor, while GNPs functionalized with thiolated phosphothioethanol (PTE-GNPs) and thiolated polyethylene glycol (PEG-GNPs) regularly accumulate in the tumor periphery. Further, PEG functionalization resulted in larger tumoral surface coverage than PTE, reaching beyond the outer zone of the tumor mass and into the surrounding stroma. To understand the dissimilarities in spatiotemporal evolution across the different GNP surface chemistries, we modeled their intratumoral transport with reaction-diffusion equations. Our results suggest that GNP surface passivation affects nanoparticle reactivity with the tumor microenvironment, leading to differential transport behavior across tumor zones. The present study provides a mechanistic understanding of the factors affecting spatiotemporal distribution of nanoparticles in the tumor. Our proof of concept of zonal delivery within the tumor may prove useful for directing anticancer therapies to regions of biomarker overexpression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13983-13994
Number of pages12
Issue number45
Early online dateNov 1 2022
StatePublished - Nov 15 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry


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